Essential Kitchen Tools: Knives

by TabithaY

Knives are one of the most important tools you can have in your kitchen, but you don't need a huge collection of specialty pieces. Here are the basics for any kitchen.


A trip to any cookware department or specialty store can be overwhelming and very tempting. With so many choices of knives in every price range, knowing what you really need versus what are nice extras can be tough to figure out.

But unless you do a lot of specialized cooking - or are a butcher - there's only a few key knives you need to start with. Whether you're stocking your own kitchen or shopping for your favorite college graduate getting a first apartment, here's some help narrowing down your list.

Chef's Knife

A chef's knife is the most versatile and important knife to have in your kitchen, used for a wide range of chopping and slicing tasks. Comfort and balance are really the most important qualities in this knife, given the size and how often you will use it, so shop with that in mind. You can get an excellent model for under $50 or splurge on one over $100, so look around and see what feels good in your hand that fits in your budget.

Wüsthof and Henckels both have highly rated knives, but Victorinox offers exceptional value for the price. The first two brands generally have full-tang riveted handles while the last has a molded, lightweight, ergonomically-designed version.

Recommended Chef's Knives

Wusthof Gourmet 8-Inch Cook's Knife

W STHOF precision forged knives are goods of only the highest quality. Painstakingly manufactured these knives are pure fun to work with and will turn even the preparation of ...

Only $100.0
Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Signature 8-Inch Chef's Knife

J.A. Henckels Twin Signature 8" Chef's knife is the perfect knife for chopping and dicing. The Twin Signature blade is made of high carbon stainless steel that has gone ...

$90.0  $89.95
Victorinox 40520 Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife

The R H Forschner by Victorinox Chef's Knife features an 8-inch blade that is 2-inches wide at the handle. High carbon, stainless steel blade is hand finished at Victorinox in ...

$65.98  $51.17

Paring Knife

A paring knife is more nimble than the chef's knife and is perfect for peeling fruits and vegetables, stemming mushrooms, coring tomatoes, and similar tasks. Wüsthof, Henckels, and Victorinox again have some of the highest rated options with Victorinox offering exceptional value.

Paring knives have blades measuring 3" to 4" in length, with 3 1/4" to 3 1/2" considered the most comfortable to use for the widest range of cooks. Try out a couple different lengths to see what works best for you.

Recommended Paring Knives

Forschner / Victorinox Paring Knife, 3 1/4 in Straight, Small, Black Nylon Handle Model 40600

The R.H. Forschner collection has grown in size and stature since its name was first carved in steel in 1855. Historically a premier choice of culinary professionals, it is ...

Only $4.13
J.A. Henckels Twin Four Star 3-Inch High Carbon Stainless-Steel Paring Knife

The ideal paring knife should be the length of your thumb. This provides good leverage and eliminates the need to hold the knife's cutting edge. A paring knife is ideal for ...

$47.0  $40.0
Wusthof Classic 3-1/2-Inch Paring Knife

Every element of this renowned cutlery contributes to its precision and ease of use. The high-carbon stainless steel blades are hardened to maintain a sharp edge and full ...

Only $95.0

Serrated Knife

A serrated knife is more specialized that either the chef's or paring knife, but it really doesn't have a substitute. Not only is it essential for cutting bread, it is the tool of choice for slicing tomatoes, creating neat slices without crushing. It's also perfect for cutting delicate angel food and chiffon cakes.

Look for a blade that's 10 to 12 inches long - anything shorter can't manage cake layers or large loaves while longer blades become awkward to handle. A good, all-purpose style should have medium-size, even serrations - no need for any of the more exotic variations. Wüsthof's model is lovely to use but pricey. Victorinox has an excellent model that's much easier on the wallet.

Recommended Serrated Knives

Victorinox 47547 10-1/4-Inch Wavy Bread Knife, Black Fibrox Handle

The R H Forschner by Victorinox Curved Blade Bread Knife features an 10.25-inch wavy-edge blade that is 1.25-inches wide at the handle. High carbon, stainless steel blade is ...

Only $44.95
Wusthof Classic 10-Inch Bread Knife

Every element of this renowned cutlery contributes to its precision and ease of use. The high-carbon stainless steel blades are hardened to maintain a sharp edge and full ...

Only $149.95

Cutting Board

A necessary accessory to your new knives is a good cutting board. If you're concerned about cross-contamination (from raw poultry to other foods, for example), consider getting multiple cutting boards - in different colors if possible - and reserving each for different purposes. A dishwasher-safe board is also a good option.

Polypropylene is a common material for boards that can go in the dishwasher, but many people prefer wood with bamboo growing in popularity. Attractive and pleasant to work with, wood usually needs special care for maximum life, including oiling and careful cleaning technique.

Recommended Cutting Boards

OXO Good Grips 15-inch by 21-Inch Cutting Board, Black Edge

Chop, dice, mince and carve on the OXO Good Grips Cutting Boards. The Boards feature soft, tapered handles for easy lifting and carrying and non-slip edges that keep the ...

Only $35.0

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Proteak Teak Cutting Board Rectangle 20-by-15-by-1-1/2-Inch Edge Grain

Proteak has designed its line of cutting boards to meet the needs of professional chefs and serious home cooks, as well as of those looking for kitchen accessories that are as ...

$99.95  $84.47

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Architec The Gripper Bamboo Cutting Board, 11 by 14-Inch

Although this Gripperwood Bamboo Cutting board has the superior characteristics of hardwood products, Bomboo is classifies with the grass family. This makes it a fast growing, ...

Only $19.99

View on Amazon


Additional accessories to consider are a good knife sharpener or stone. Also consider how to store your knives so the blades don't knock together with each other or other utensils. You don't have to get a big knife block that will take up counter space. Try a small towel, tucked up between each knife to keep them separate, or an inexpensive plastic drawer insert.

You will use your knives almost daily, so test out what sort of handle feels best in your hand and how heavy a blade you prefer. There are a number of high quality models of various styles that are reasonably priced.

Also See

Essential Kitchen Tools: Gadgets and Accessories
A suggested list of core, basic gadgets, utensils, and accessories when stocking your kitchen. Great for graduation gift ideas.

Essential Kitchen Tools: Pots and Pans
Building a basic but functional collection of kitchen tools does not have to be very expensive or complicated. Here are suggestions for a core set of pots and pans.

Updated: 02/05/2012, TabithaY
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